Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Perfume Genius - No Shape Review

How your viewed in life is entirely dependent on who's surrounding you. For Mike Hadreas, known to most as Perfume Genius, he's experienced a breadth of what society has on offer. Born gay, flamboyant as all hell, his upbringing wasn't so divine, with a religious household that valued tradition, God, and the bible stronger than any supportive moral compass. And yet today, aged 35, a beaming sight in Art Pop, Hadreas charms a trove of fans just as progressive, brazen, and androsexual as him. In 2014, Perfume Genius released Too Bright. While his previous LP's dealt with the repressed nature of having uncommon romantic tendencies, Too Bright flourished in the acceptance of being different, looking down upon those who once, and still do, look down upon him. It was a defiant LGBT record, one that finally found an avenue for the hyper-masculine to cower in freight. "No family is safe when I sashay" is still as impactful a line today as it was then. So, where does one go when they've already achieved justice and revenge over those who spew hatred? For Perfume Genius, he tackles the heart of the problem; religion, while pushing further away from the systematic hatred with all-encompassing love.

The record, literally and figuratively, begins with a bang. 'Otherside' wastes no time reintroducing listeners to Perfume Genius' glamorous Art Pop, a place where classical piano and rhapsodic synths live in harmony. Follow-up 'Slip Away,' the album's lead single, abides by the same mindset, replacing the fragile hammering of keys with the Industrial drums that Perfume Genius is known for, colliding them all in the colossal hook. The tone is fitting too, as No Shape's decadence draws constant influence from the revisionist history of the Renaissance. The stoic paintings of androgynous pantheons, the bathhouses where bodies were admired not condemned, and the elegant masquerades that hid gender-specific features, all of it blossoms in excess through No Shape's opulent facade. This includes visually too, as the music video's for 'Die 4 You' and 'Slip Away' use excessive filtering and cinematic mystique to create that moving painting look. And while one (read: me) can make a succinct argument that 'Slip Away' is just the gay version of Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Off,' the shapeshifting identity of the hit proves vital to understanding No Shape's inherent chameleonic nature. From loud and proud, to insecure and unsure, No Shape constantly finds Hadreas reevaluating his surroundings.

In many ways, No Shape is a transitional piece, one that finds Perfume Genius' confidence wrecking havoc, for himself and those like him, before a mirror emerges, forcing Hadreas to dissect the flaws. Early on, gay pride runs rampant, like on 'Just Like Love' or 'Go Ahead.' The former praises a young boy's fearlessness in accepting his urges, telling him to "hold on and stare them down when it [hate] happens again," while the latter finds Hadreas doing the same towards those who continue to attack his pride. Both bear similarities, down to the lyrics, and are clearly companion pieces meant to satisfy the innocent and the matured. Each track differs sonically though, as 'Just Like Love' glorifies classical elements a la vintage Vampire Weekend, while 'Go Ahead' stumbles around sophisticated experimentation a la Jamie Stewart (of Xiu Xiu). Both these influences can be seen elsewhere too, primarily on 'Wreath' and 'Choir' respectively. However, more than just being two bullet points, each of these songs represent No Shape's dark side. Despite brandishing production that excites rather than mourns, 'Wreath' captures Hadreas in hatred of his incurable Crohn’s disease, while 'Choir' petrifies the singer at learning the truth of pure evil.

The former marks one of No Shape's high points, brilliantly fiddling with the fluttering instrumentation, concluding with an excellent climax that makes it feel as if Hadreas' soul is leaving his body behind. This is further evident on the ensuing track 'Every Night,' one of No Shape's most despondent tracks, and one that finds Perfume Genius questioning the existence of a nearby demonic phantom. Like many piano ballads, my attentiveness remains at a minimum, but the brevity at which Hadreas glides by these, and the unusual topics at hand, help me to find value in the uninteresting. The closing track is a prime example of this, finding Alan Wyffels, Hadreas' partner of eight years, become the focal point and not just an influential presence in the background. The lovingness on display, captured in Hadreas' skyward vocals, helps to give meaning towards No Shape's low points. Unfortunately, 'Alan,' and a few of the final cuts like 'Braid' and 'Run Me Through,' just aren't that appealing musically to enrapture listeners, causing the album to tamper off in that regard. 'Sides,' which features Weyes Blood scantily singing in her fanciful tone about a rocky relationship, is the last track to entice me with the production. The rest is up to Hadreas.

Thankfully, throughout the course of the album, he pulls through. No, there aren't any magnificent peaks in concept like 'Queen' or 'Grid,' but No Shape is far more consistent than Perfume Genius' previous effort. Regardless of what excites you, you're never too far from it. Be it the heavenly production, the abrasive, Hadreas' quivering vocals, his wholly personal lyrics, or hooks that latch for days, No Shape flaunts them all in spades. The best tracks, like 'Wreath,' 'Die 4 You,' or the low tempo 'Valley,' feature every facet all at once. Perfume Genius' idiosyncratic artistry truly helps to push his message even further, failing to stall in the crucial sonics that could easily sound like any number of artists similar to him. I mean really, where else, on a record as clean and polished as this, could you find a track that admires erotic asphyxiation? 'Die 4 You' does just that, pacing itself like a Contemporary R&B crooner, Hadreas' vocals losing distinction as if he's actually enduring the fetish himself. While I would've preferred a record that was more ambitious and liberating, there's no denying Perfume Genius' talents as an intimate songwriter revealing all his pains and pleasures to us. No Shape hides behind no mask, and brings Mike Hadreas closer to us, and himself.

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